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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Better to Hold Elections Than Rehearse Them

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Before Sunday's parliamentary contests in 14 regions, Central Elections Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov called the vote a dress rehearsal for the State Duma elections this December.

The elections, in which the pro-Kremlin United Russia party placed first in the party-list vote in 13 of 14 regions, were the first time out for the second pro-Kremlin party, A Just Russia, which finished first in the Stavropol region.

A Just Russia would seem to be the last piece in the Kremlin's State Duma election puzzle. In the last vote for the federal parliament, in 2003, the Kremlin backed the creation of the nationalist Rodina party in order to siphon support away from the Communists who, interestingly, managed to finish second in half of Sunday's races.

But Rodina followed up its fourth-place finish in 2003 by flexing its political muscles, and the Kremlin responded by ousting its leader, Dmitry Rogozin, and ultimately folding the party into A Just Russia.

A Just Russia did even better Sunday, and its leader, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, is unlikely to make the same mistake Rogozin did.

With the exception of the Communists, who seem unlikely ever to regain the dominance in the Duma they enjoyed in the 1990s, all of the parties that fared well Sunday are friendly to President Vladimir Putin's administration.

The Liberal Democratic Party, which once made at least a show of opposition to the Kremlin, no longer feels compelled to do so.

Without support from the Kremlin, political parties today have little chance of coming out on top in elections at any level. The media -- particularly television, from which most people get their news -- have been largely brought under state control. The case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky made clear the risks involved in financing opposition parties.

Parties that try to campaign on issues that matter to the voters but irritate the powers that be find themselves stricken from the ballot, as Yabloko seems to have discovered after opposing Gazprom's plan to build a skyscraper in St. Petersburg.

The current system compels parties to stop courting votes and start currying favor in the Kremlin and governors' offices around the country. As a result, the executive branch at all levels is increasingly out of touch with the concerns of voters, and the legislative branch can do little to counter it.

Without legislative oversight, it is easy for the president and the governors to force flawed or unpopular legislation through parliaments. The government's hamhanded attempt to replace welfare and other benefits with cash payments two years ago was a good example of the risks involved.

The country would be better off if regional elections were treated not as a dress rehearsal, but as a real contest between parties devoted to improving the lives of the people they represent.